All Your Content Doesn’t Matter Without Meaning


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This post was originally posted on Linkedin last year.  It was wildly popular. Since it’s still relevant today, I’m republishing here. Enjoy!


I’ve heard the best time to write is very early in the morning when you’re still in sleep mode. It may help with creativity or in developing concepts. It might even help you spend less mental energy (who couldn’t use more battery life?). Not to mention, the only likely distraction are roosters, though only a problem for marketers working on farms.

For our SEO clients, I often write my titles after my piece is written, but I never go into a content piece without a purpose. And more than a fluffy idea, but an idea that I can qualify as valuable. I wrote a post on Moz about uncovering some of these ideas and measuring the value of them. I truly believe this extra work ahead of time pays out in the end (read that post to pick up some tips for finding and validating content ideas with data).

Once you’re past the data and have some direction, you’re entering the vicinity of the art form known as writing. Semiotics, philosophical theorizing, and representation make your content constructive. If you’re teaching your audience from the place they reside, you’re going to make an even bigger impact. If you don’t know your audience and you’re talking over their heads, you’re going to whiff.

IceSounds logical, right? The truth is, Google loves this type of content. It’s exactly what they want to be ranking since it improves their own brand. Synergy!

But what I’m still seeing from businesses and content vendors alike are fluffy pieces that are redundant to what’s already been said, cranked out by the thousands, in hopes of winning SEO traffic. I’m also hearing about those uncomfortable conversations between the business and the vendors when the content does absolutely nothing in terms of SEO progress. Sure, they may be written fine, but they are as memorable as Teen Wolf Too.

Panda updates are designed to de-rank thin content. But thin content isn’t just the stuff that’s spun, regurgitated, and published in short chunks. Long-form content may be less likely to be suppressed by Panda, but if it’s not saying anything, Google’s not going to go for it (at least not for the long term – that’s a pretty safe bet).

See, Google – through the Hummingbird update – has improved its comprehension. It’s improving its use of structured data and semantics and is trying to determine the value of content beyond just keywords. Even though we’re just at the beginning, I can definitely see a day where keywords alone don’t move the needle effectively. We’re already entering this phase with pages being ranked even if they don’t contain a keyword, and results in understanding the intent of the search based on previous search data and relationships. More signals outside of the mainstream SEO keyword plays.

This is the mental checklist I audit my content ideas against, then audit my final copy against:

  • Did I say anything new?
    If not, it’s probably better to be a curator, but don’t expect much from SEO here.
  • Did I say something that will get someone’s attention?
    This is marketing – if you’re writing the same old stuff or failing to cut through the noise, you’re not doing effective marketing. Yup – digital has raised the bar quite high.
  • Is the content part of a strategy?
    If you’re posting to get search traffic, that’s not a strategy – that’s a tactic. If you’re using a bunch of tactics chained together with a beginning and an end, with a specific, calculated goal, that’s a strategy. Normally the strategy has a bigger impact in Google today.
  • Am I really an expert on this topic?
    If you’re not, people will know. They won’t share. They won’t comment. They won’t link. You probably won’t get Google’s attention then. Fill your content with your expertise, even if you have to become an expert before you put pen to paper.
  • Did my copy focus on relationships Google knows about?
    This one is certainly tougher, but a tool like Alchemy API might help you hit the triggers that Google uses to grade your content.

If your site is cranking out non-spammy, well-written 500+ articles because “content is king,” but not really saying anything that makes your brand a brand, or gives your users a different point of view, or solves their problems, you’re underwater. You may not have thought of it this way, but reaching the surface may be harder than you realized. Plain content isn’t king anymore.


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Bill Sebald

Bill Sebald

Managing Partner

I've been doing SEO since 1996. Blogger, speaker, and occasionally teaching at Drexel and Philadelphia University. I started Greenlane in 2005 to help clients leverage search marketing to hit business goals. I love this stuff. Visit my profile page.

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